Bad Right Breast

I've Always Hated My Right Breast!

No More Mangoes April 25, 2016

Filed under: cancer,in memorium — Bad Right Breast @ 8:23 pm

victor 1victor 2For as long as my girls can remember, almost every time they’ve gone to the garden (our community oasis in West Harlem) they received a mango. Victor, an 80 year old retired postman of Puerto Rican descent, would see them coming and plan his delivery. We never knew where he got the mango (grocery store, home or off the back of the truck – the latter is the most likely), but he’d stride over with the biggest grin, chuckling quietly to himself along the way, as if he was the only one on the inside of a joke. He’d tenderly tap one of the girls on the shoulder, and she turned around as he’d present the mango in slow motion as if it were a delicate flower. Seeing the girls’ eyes brighten and mouths water at the site would bring him more joy than you ever thought imaginable.

Victor Benitez passed away this past Friday at the age of 85, on Earth Day, succumbed to brain cancer. It progressed more rapidly than anyone could have imagined, having only been diagnosed in February. He returned to NYC with his family at the forefront, no other place they’d rather be. In my last talks with Victor, he remembered me telling him years ago how I’d rather go through cancer over and over again than to ever have to watch a loved one fight it. That it’s the caregivers, the family and friends, who can only watch and wait, that it’s the hardest on. He understood this. He may have not been able to express his gratitude for it, but he was forever thankful.

For those who were fortunate enough to know him, your heart is broken, but you also have a smile on your face because you know that’s what he would have wanted. Always so full of life, and ready to throw a handshake and a hug to each and every person he came into contact with. You could feel the warmth emanating from the shake of his head or the wave of his hand from hundreds of feet away. And that laugh….oh that laugh! When he laughed it was the deepest of belly laughs and you couldn’t help but join in, even if you didn’t understand what he said that got it all started.  For those that never knew him, it is his presence every weekend at the garden and in the park they will miss most. Knowing that Papi won’t be around, well …it’s just not going to be the same each summer without him.

Jenny & VictorHe was a husband who thought the world of his wife.  He was a father who loved his children dearly.  He was a grandfather who doted on all of his grand-kids and the kids of others.  And he was a dear friend to hundreds.   When I told my girls about Mr. Victor’s passing, the first thing they said, in unison albeit, was, ‘No more mangoes?’  Then it sunk in.  We won’t see that smile any longer, won’t see that giant hand wave from afar, won’t get another bear hug and won’t hear that laugh that tickled our insides.  But we know that where he is now, he isn’t suffering, nor is he in pain.  He is where we all know him best, behind the wheel of his heavenly gator, driving around until his heart is content.  As for us?  Well, I know that many things will remind us of Victor, but for me?  It’s the mango, that simple.   As I close my eyes, all I need to do is say the word and I’m reminded.   And I smile.

Photo courtesy of Basia Nikonorow

 

PRAISE TO THE CAREGIVERS April 16, 2016

Filed under: cancer — Bad Right Breast @ 10:57 pm

You’ll be one at some time in your life, whether you like it or not. And I’m not talking about the natural caregiver as a parent (which is a whole ‘nother blog). I’m talking about the one whose life is turned upside down, has a whole new ‘normal’ (sometimes with no end in sight), all the while living the day-to-day life that can go completely unnoticed by the world around him/her.

Even before my own cancer, I never knew how people did it. A sudden accident turns your child completely immobile. A flood takes away a home and forces you to care for your ailing mother. A terminal diagnosis given to your spouse that can last months or sometimes years. I had seen all of these and more before my own cancer and watched in awe as the caregivers adjusted their normal lives, in almost all cases, without hesitation to the new normal which few can describe but unfortunately many experience.

It wasn’t until my own cancer that I saw it. When you’re sick, friends and family want to help, as that is all they know they can do. (And let me tell you, as hard as it is, please let them bring you food, shop for your groceries, do your laundry, take your kids for the day. It all helps more than you know.) I am that person the moment I hear of a friend or loved one with cancer, doing anything I can to feel helpful. Yes, being the supplier of edibles and green relief counts.

But it is the true caregiver that I never want to be. I mean, of course I will, when the time comes. I know I will do my part and step up to the plate as best I can. However, it’s the standing on the sidelines, feeling helpless, watching as your loved one suffers, that I know will be the hardest. All the while, you cook the meals, keep up with the cleaning, manage life. Then there’s the emotions that we all feel but are the hardest to acknowledge. The feelings that emerge simply because we’re human that become the most overwhelming.

The feeling of guilt is one that I feel all the time, even without a tragedy. I blame it on being a Recovering Catholic. The guilt of not being the sick one, of not being able to do more, or if you live far away, not being able to do it at all. The guilt can eat away at you without you even being aware of it. Guilt ….what a fucked up feeling.

Then there’s the feelings of anger and resentment at the ailing loved one, as if it’s something that could have been avoided. You know in your heart that it’s irrational, but the feeling lingers, and at times grows and takes over. There’s anger at the world, the doctors, insurance companies, and more. There’s resentment at other friends and family members who don’t carry your burden, either by choice or by reality.

The anxiety and worry of how you’ll handle the additional responsibilities. What will happen if the sickness progresses and a decision needs to be made? If something happens to you, who will take your place? Or if you become the patient, will someone do the same for you?

Then there’s grief, of all kinds. The sadness of an envisioned future lost. The loss of time and love, and then of life itself.

As I write this, there are more than a half dozen loved ones of mine dealing with cancer at all varying levels. (At this time, they’ve not determined that it’s contagious, so it’s not my fault.) A friend, a mother, an aunt, a veteran, a father, a sister. If you’ve read my posts before, you know I’ve said, “Cancer knows no prejudice.” And in the same sense, neither does being a caregiver. And in dealing with cancer or any illness, I believe it’s the same mental game. Stay out of your head, as the worrying and what ifs aren’t productive. Acknowledge your sadness, feel it, experience it – and then move on. And then handle it with a passion and resilience that you never thought you could muster, but somehow becomes your superhero strength.

But in the end, I would still much rather live through the cancer fight over and over again as long as I’d never have to see a loved one experience it directly. It’s the feeling of helplessness that I can’t stand the most. So please, give me your cancer. I’d happily take it, so you don’t have to.

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FEEL YOURSELF: no matter what the experts say! February 7, 2016

Filed under: breast self exams,cancer — Bad Right Breast @ 12:55 pm

Breast_self_exam_1 copyI’ve found myself only mentioning breast self-examinations during either the month of October, when all of the other media outlets push their pink agenda (which normally only lasts for the first couple of weeks) or when my cancer free anniversary comes around (June 1, 2016 will be four friggin’ years!)  But due to, yet again, having several women – all under the age of 40, mothers to adorable children and dear friends of mine – be diagnosed with breast cancer very recently, I’ve felt the need to push my own agenda during these ‘off’ months.

Before I write my opinion on this, know that I’m a Stage3b breast cancer survivor. Due to the amount of cancer history in my family, I was lucky enough to have my GYN insist that I start mammograms when I turned 36 despite what the ‘recommendations’ suggested. AND I was even luckier to have found my extremely aggressive tumor (which turned out to be 15.  Yep, that’s plural) by doing a breast self-examination (BSE), at the age of 36 before I even went in for that coincidental suggested mammogram. AND I had a breast surgeon who had the balls enough to demand that I have a Pet Scan prior to any surgery or treatment to ensure that there was no cancer present anywhere else in my body.

I admit, I am one of the lucky ones, whose stars magically aligned and am now alive for it. So when the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force released an update this past January to their recommendations regarding Breast Cancer Screening, I became livid. First of all, who the hell is this USPSTF? And second, who the hell listens to them? To answer my own questions……

“The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is an independent, volunteer panel of national experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine formed back in 1984. The Task Force works to improve the health of all Americans by making evidence-based recommendations about clinical preventive services such as screenings, counseling services, and preventive medications. All recommendations are published on the Task Force’s Web site and/or in a peer-reviewed journal.  It is made up of 16 volunteer members who are nationally recognized experts in prevention, evidence-based medicine, and primary care. Their fields of practice and expertise include behavioral health, family medicine, geriatrics, internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, and nursing. Task Force members serve 4-year terms. Members are screened to ensure that they have no substantial conflicts of interest that could impair the scientific integrity of the Task Force’s work.”  To read more on who the Task Force is click HERE.  And as far as who listens to them?  Well, apparently everyone.  Your doctor, the media, the old lady on the corner for all you know.

So when I hear ‘guidelines’ being changed (which to be honest has always seemed to me to have more to do with the cost to insurance companies than the safety of the patient), I literally want to rip someone’s throat out.  But I soon found out, their guidelines haven’t changed.  They’ve just been repeating their same advice on BSE since 2009, and not providing any substantial research to prove differently.  Even though there have been changes to the Task Force’s views on mammograms as early as January 2016 (click HERE), there has been no change in over seven years to their recommendations on BSE.  In 2009, the Task Force recommended AGAINST teaching BSE, saying that “there is moderate or high certainty that the service has no net benefit or that the harms outweigh the benefits.  Furthermore, they say that the evidence of clinical breast examinations (CBE) is inadequate.”  Since performing a BSE saved my life (thus I know the benefit), I have been searching for the ‘harm’ that they’ve yet to provide in detail.  The only statement I could find from the Task Force was that, “The potential harms are thought to be small but include false-positive test results, which lead to anxiety and breast cancer worry, as well as repeated visits and unwarranted imaging and biopsies.” That’s it.  Basically, no need to waste your doctor and insurance providers time and resources, just because you think you know your own body.

I decided to see what other institutions thought.  The National Cancer Institute (www.Cancer.gov) says that even though monthly BSEs are promoted there is no solid evidence that they are effective in reducing breast cancer mortality.  Their research?  “The only large, well-conducted, randomized clinical trial of BSE randomly assigned 266,064 women factory workers in Shanghai to receive either BSE instruction with reinforcement and encouragement, or instruction on the prevention of lower back pain. Neither group received any other breast cancer screening.” Seriously. Their finding?  After 10 years of follow-up, both groups had nearly the same number of breast cancer deaths, 135 and 131 respectively, and women in the instruction group received more breast biopsies and diagnosed benign lesions than the other group.  (for their complete findings click HERE.) Again I ask, what harm is there?  That we, as women, shouldn’t worry our little heads?  The idea of us feeling our breasts may lead to mental anxiety? Or worse, a visit to the doctor?  A demand for a test?  Finding something there that isn’t deadly, but still, in fact, is there?

Finding any other research is limited.  From Leningrad to the UK, they say that women who performed BSEs had more biopsies, doctor visits and such with no improvements in breast cancer mortality.  Only Canada, dear sweet Canada….”Women who examined their breasts visually, used their finger pads for palpation, and used their three middle fingers had a lower breast cancer mortality rates.” So is everyone else just doing it wrong?

Luckily there are a number of sites that provide illustrations, videos and more on BSE.  I prefer the site, www.healthination.com.  Multiple videos can be found HERE.

Breast cancer deaths are preventable because of 2 things: early screenings and physical exams – PERIOD! And to make an overall change or a blanket statement that is to relate to each and every individual is assinine and ignorant. I say – INSIST THAT YOUR DOCTOR GETS YOUR SCREENING APPROVED, pressure your physician to do a clinical breast examination.  And most importantly, know your body by doing your own breast self-examination periodically.   You are the client and product. It is your life. Your decisions, your choice! #badrightbreast #feelyourself #breastselfexam

self-breast-exam

 

 

 

31 Days of Advice – Breast Cancer Awareness Month October 4, 2015

Filed under: cancer — Bad Right Breast @ 8:18 pm

Here’s my annual list of advice throughout Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  I’ll continue to update everyday and post.  Enjoy!

Day 31 – Well, this is it. (Although, if you’ve ever dealt with cancer, there is never an end. Not really.) Love yourself. Love your family. Love your friends. Be grateful for what you have. Trust your instincts. Be brave and forge ahead.

Day 30 – Four years ago I was in the midst of chemo, doing my best to keep our girls’ lives ‘normal’ and preparing for Halloween. I didn’t know that I was going to end up OK. I didn’t know what a toll it would take on my family, my friends, my body. I didn’t know that two years later Penelope would admit that it was a scary time. What I did know was that I had to do everything in my power to keep life as ‘normal’ as possible for me, as much as for them. Enjoy this time. You just don’t know if you’ll get it again. Have a safe Halloween!

Day 29 – 29 Days of Breast Cancer Awareness, although by now it seems all of the marketing and sponsorship dollars have been spent and the last days of the month are lost.  Seriously, when was the last time you saw the color pink (except maybe on the hands and fee of the NFL.  I mean, I love my football, but I friggin’ hate the color pink!) and thought to yourself, ‘Oh yeah, I need to schedule that mammogram!’  Or did a self-exam all on your own?  I’ll repeat as I stated on Day 1 – ONE IN EIGHT women is diagnosed with breast cancer EVERY DAY!  And they still don’t know why.  Ever since the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional for the one company in Utah to hold a patent on gene testing for cancer a mere two years ago, we’ve yet to see any other genetic testing come forth to tell us how this happens.  My genetic chart looked like a family tree with chicken pox with all of my cancer-ridden relatives, yet I’m an ABSOLUTE NEGATIVE.  I was literally told, ‘It’s just dumb luck.’ Our breasts are sponges, and early detection CAN SAVE YOUR LIFE!  As it has saved mine.  So please, right now, wherever you are – FEEL YOURSELF UP!

Day 28 – Never do bills while drinking homemade sangria, aka ‘No-No Juice.’ So today’s advice – don’t try drinking while on chemo. Man, I can hold my liquor (ok, for the most part) but could barely finish a glass of wine during my second round of chemo. Also, Utz potato chips and French onion dip don’t mix well with chemo either.

Day 27 – Never apologize for cancer, unless you truly think you’re the cause. Before I would have easily said, “I’m sorry,” at the word of diagnosis. Now I make sure I make an effort NOT to apologize. Instead? “Ugh, that stinks, sucks, blows donkey ass, friggin’ ridiculous!” But never, if you can help it, apologize for cancer. It doesn’t deserve condolences. It deserves an ass-kicking!

Day 26 – When losing your hair during chemo, the carpet does indeed end up matching the drapes…..just sayin.

Day 25 – You’ll be amazed at what you’re capable of when you have no other choice. I appreciate when people commend me for what I’ve gone through, I do, and looking back I sometimes am not quite sure how I got through it all. Believe me when I say that I could feel all of the positive love and energy. But there’s a part of (maybe that part that got kicked out of the President’s office in college) that says, ‘what alternative did I have?’ And ‘you would have done it too if you had to.’ I know it’s different for everyone. I mean, there are women who go through treatment WHILE THEY’RE PREGNANT! So, never underestimate what you are capable of. When looking death in the eye and seeing your family standing right next to it, well…it’s not even a choice. We are all capable of great things when there’s no other choice.

Day 24 – When around anyone going through treatment or their loved ones, please be more conscious of hand-washing, staying healthy and keeping clean. Immune systems are weaker in some, more than others, and unfortunately you don’t know just how weak until it’s too late. One sneeze can mean another few days in bed. 102 fever can mean a trip to the ER. One handshake or hug can mean a week in the hospital.

Day 23 – the bills. I’ve had health insurance my entire life. Even as a struggling artist, I had health insurance. My bills over 10 months wiped out everything we had and then some. I got a bill 2 years after a procedure. No wonder people go bankrupt, get divorced or even worse. We’ve got to figure out this insurance thing. No one should ever have to choose between their medication and a meal on the table.

Day 22 – The deepest depression for me hit between the time when I was done with treatment and when I had to wait until I found out if it was all worth it and worked. One month of waiting. Waiting is the worst.

Day 21 – Yep, having cancer is exhausting. Taking care of someone with cancer is exhausting. Worrying about a loved one with cancer is exhausting. Waiting to find results, making a decision, getting consults, continuously filling out paperwork – all exhausting. I hate cliches, but it is truly one day at a time.

Day 20 – Screw Cancer! It’s my husband’s birthday! My best friend, my love, my confidant. Words can’t express…..so I’ll do the dishes.

Day 19 – Protect your skin during radiation. Buy tons of t-shirts that will get ruined as you apply Aquaphor 3-4 times a day. You’ll be less likely to get burnt. Because a burnt armpit? Not fun!

Day 18 – give yourself a break. This time more than any other you get a pass. Screw all of those things that you think make a difference. Right now, all that matters is you.

Day 17 – Try to make your radiation appointments first thing in the morning. That way it doesn’t interrupt your day and gets you in and out of the hospital as fast as possible. I always felt the exhaustion was more from just going to the hospital every day for 30 days, than the radiation itself.

Day 16 – Poop & poop you must! Chemo makes you constipated. The pain relievers make you constipated. They tell you to flush out your system, but how can you? The majority of chemo patients that end up in the ER are there gracias they become septic. Meaning, the chemo drugs are lining their intestines and they can’t poop. Once you know your ‘schedule,’ a day or so before you have a treatment, take a stool softener and eat non-fat foods. If you can eat something with citrus, do. Keep taking the stool softener until you poop, BECAUSE YOU MUST POOP!

Day 15 – EAT! I know, ridiculous. Metal taste in your mouth like you’ve been sucking on an aluminum pan. The stress of foods that you can’t eat reminds you of being pregnant but with no glory. Citrus burns through your tongue. But you must eat. And eat non-fat products so that you can easily digest and poop……yep, poop is tomorrow.

Day 14 – Give your caretake a break. My husband will be the first to tell you that being the caretaker stinks. You have to be a hard ass to the patient in order for her to do what she’s supposed to do. Everyone asks about her and don’t even think to ask how you’re doing. And that whole ‘don’t be quick to judge?’ Well, I’m sure he’s not thinking about the people on the sidewalk when he’s walking to work or bumping into folks on the subway. Yeah, give the caretaker a break.

Day 13 – yes, you have every right to be depressed. But do everything in your power to feel it, acknowledge it, and then snap out of it. Cancer doesn’t care that you’re depressed. Why would you then give it that much power over you?

Day 12 – Know your family history. For the cancer gene, you need to go back to your grandparents’ siblings. If they had cancer, what kind? What age? Remission? If so, when? If they have died, what did they die of? What age? Growing up I always thought there was more cancer on my mom’s side, but after doing the history, it was my dad’s side that was more problematic. I call it my chicken pox family tree. Now I ended up being a true negative, but only because at the time there was one company that held the patent on gene testing for cancer. Luckily two years ago the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional, so expect more tests coming out in our near future. They will cost an arm and a leg though. For the BRCA1 and BRCA2, the initial test is $3500, covered mostly by the insurance company. The 2nd and 3rd, neither covered, cost $800 a pop. Luckily I donated my blood to research, so found out without having to pay. Still sucks though.

Day 11 – Stay ahead of the pain.  No point in being a martyr.  I’ll say it here and now.  Pot works.  Like red wine, you don’t need a whole bottle.  A glass is all you need.

Day 10 – Don’t be quick to judge. When you don’t ‘look’ like cancer, people have no idea what you’re dealing with. When do ‘look’ like cancer, you get stares. Could be because they just recently lost someone, care for someone, heard news or is dealing with their own diagnosis. So a reminder, don’t be quick to judge. You never know what someone else is going through.

Day 9 – Give your body a break. Rest and relax when you can. Taking one day off is better than having to take five days off. Listen to your body.

Day 8 – Be as honest and upfront with your kids as much as you can. They are incredibly resilient. Giving them all of the information allows them to take ownership of the situation, and deal with it on their own terms. Plus, it builds your trust with them, something that will be much more beneficial in the future.

Day 7 – Stay out of your head. You can do more damage to yourself. Nothing good has ever come out of worrying or ‘what ifs.’ Easier said than done, I know, but mind over body is an incredible gift.

Day 6 – Don’t be afraid to ask for help. No one should go through any traumatic experience alone. Family, friends and colleagues want to help. Let them. You’ll be amazed at the things they can do – big and little.

Day 5 – Always have your advocate with you. When you hear news from a doctor, whether it’s cancer or anything else, your brain can’t fully download what’s being said. Your advocate is your second set of ears. And Graham, as my advocate, confirmed something for me, something my doctor missed. So again, ALWAYS HAVE YOUR ADVOCATE WITH YOU!

Day 4 – It is your body and your choice.  Arm yourself with all possible information, and YOU make your own choice about your course of action – surgery, treatment, lifestyle.

Day 3 – Don’t be afraid to question your doctor(s)!  You are the product & client, and it’s your life!

Day 2 – Know your body and trust your instincts.  Seriously.

Day 1 – One in eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime.  CHECK YOURSELVES!

 

Turning 40, and 3! May 20, 2015

Filed under: cancer — Bad Right Breast @ 8:05 am
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That’s right, I’ve turned 40 years old and three years cancer free. When I was going through all of the bullshit – tests, waiting, doc visits, waiting, scans, waiting, surgery, waiting, chemo, waiting, radiation, waiting, more tests, waiting – for some reason I often thought, “Just let me get to my 40th birthday.” As if turning 40 would somehow miraculously heal me. It seems a lifetime ago, yet it was just a mere three years. The craziest part is that the girls were just three years old themselves when they learned about cancer. Just three. Think of the discussions. The conversations that we had with them, the ones that we never thought we’d ever have to imagine.

  • Mommy has a sickness in her boobs and she needs to get them taken off.
  • Mommy will have new boobs but they won’t be the same.
  • Mommy has cancer and will need to take medicine that will make her sick and then make her better.
  • Mommy will be ok.
  • You won’t be able to hug mommy.
  • You won’t be able to sit on mommy’s lap.
  • Mommy can’t give you a bath.
  • Mommy can’t pick you up.
  • Mommy’s going to lose all of her hair.
  • Grandma will come visit.
  • Granny will come take care of you this week.
  • You’re going to stay the night with Granddaddy.
  • We’re having dinner from so-and-so tonight.
  • Please don’t disturb mommy.
  • Please don’t cough on mommy.
  • Please don’t sneeze on mommy.
  • Wash your hands, please.
  • Use some hand sanitizer, please.

And so much more. I mean, how much can a couple of toddlers take? However, I truly feel that because they were three years young at the time, they were able to handle it as if it were a normal way of life. Very sad to think, but very true. Kids are in fact incredibly resilient. As parents, we are always worrying about how they feel, what they’ll think, how they’ll react to certain news. But then they’ll surprise us at each and every turn.

When we told them that I had CANCER, that I was sick and going to take medicine that made me sicker but then would make me better, they took it with a grain of salt. It was a matter of fact for them. They went right back to eating their chicken wings and broccoli, as if we had just told them something completely ordinary. They later discussed it with their friends. They shared it openly with strangers on the subway. “My mom has CANCER in her boobs and is going to have them cut off.” That simple. When I lost my hair, I was adamant that they be a part of the shearing process. I gelled my loose hair to my scalp to survive an opening night. Wore a baseball cap for an entire day, sealing my hair to my skin, holding it on until I could no longer. That night, I sat on the edge of the tub, and told the girls it was time. And once again, as if it were nothing extraordinary, they gently started pulling my hair out. The freaky thing is they kind of enjoyed it. I had to slow them down as my scalp began to become a bit tender. With the help of my best friends, one with the clipper in hand and the other with a video camera documenting the entire thing, my girls watched as I shaved my head bald. Not completely skinhead bald. More GI Jane bald. And my girls watched every bit of it, even at times using the clippers themselves, again as if it were normal.

Over time, during my treatment, they did in fact need a little of mommy love, that I wasn’t able to give. I couldn’t hug them, hold them, pick them up. And then there were times, in which they got sick, and even though I was warned – really demanded – by my oncologist to stay far away from any and all people who were sick including my kids,… well, how could I as a mother sit and watch one and then both of my children suffer and not hold them in my arms? THAT’s not normal. But then again none of it was actually normal, no matter how easy it seemed the girls took it all in. So I needed to do everything that I could to keep their lives as normal as possible.

My biggest fear throughout all of it, the fear that would make me swell up in tears and still does, was thinking that their first memory ever, their earliest memory, would be of me and my cancer. Fast forward a year and a half. I had been cancer free for more than a year. My hair had grown back. I even had new nipples. The girls were five. We were on vacation, driving, randomly listening to NPR. A female comedian, for some reason I want to say Amy Schumer, was talking about how her first comedy routines were about living through her mother fighting cancer. Out of nowhere, Penelope chimed in, “You know mom? You remember when you went through cancer?” I absentmindedly replied, “yeah?” “Yeah. That was very scary.” I froze. (Thank goodness I wasn’t driving.)  I couldn’t protect her after all. We chatted a little bit about it, but once again went back to normal. For Sophia, it came back but more as a moment in time. Every time we talked about something in the past, to her it was always, “Was that before you had cancer or after?” As if my time with cancer were the zero on the number line and everything else was either a positive or a negative.

Now two years later, I feel we take three steps forward, and then another one or two back. They know of my medicine (daily Tamoxifen). They know I still see doctors on a regular basis. And while Penelope has fears swell up, especially recently with the sudden passing of their school principal, and has expressed the fear, “I don’t want you to get cancer again and die,” on more than one occasion. Sophia has taken it, yet again, as if it were normal. “We’re all going to die. That’s a part of the life cycle,” and she moves on. (Even though they are identical, they are incredibly different.).

So now that I’m 40 & 3, I couldn’t tell you the first thing about what’s normal anymore.  Every time I think we have it figured out, another monkey wrench gets thrown in and knocks it all out of whack.  If I’ve learned anything, it’s that the twins have it right.  They took it all in, and absorbed it.  They processed it when they could, simplified as they needed and then moved on with their lives.  I know ‘moving on’ (in whatever context fits you) is never that simple.  Our own unique situations and circumstances dictate that.  But imagine if it were.  If our minds and hearts could move on so simply.  Instead of over-thinking, creating ‘what ifs,’ and questioning ourselves, we just continued moving on.  Because when it comes down to it, there is no ‘normal.’  What we really want is what’s comfortable, safe and convenient, and when anything deters from that it throws us out of balance.   But no matter how much we strive to be in control, it’s just not possible.  So now at 40, I’ll strive to not over-analyze to create ‘what ifs,’ and I’ll stop pulling out the white strands and just let the grey come in.  I want to process, absorb, and move on.  Then again, what the hell do I know?  I’m only 3.

 

Two years and counting May 17, 2014

Filed under: cancer,in memorium — Bad Right Breast @ 9:01 am

20140601-205844.jpgIt’s only fitting that my birthday and cancer free anniversary are days apart from one another.  A celebration of my birth followed by a celebration of overcoming the possibility of death, back to back reminders of how grateful I am for life.  But it never was put into perspective quite as much as being told you have cancer, then Stage3 cancer, and on the verge of spreading.  If I had waited another year, month or maybe even week, my outcome might have been so incredibly different.  Yet, this year has brought about more questioning, not only about my own life, but about so much more.

It’s been hard, to say the least, to lose someone to cancer, and a bit more surreal if you’ve survived it. Each year brings about another loss. Whether it be someone who has been fighting it for years or someone who discovered it too late. Questions like, why me? What makes my life more worthy than someone else’s? Did they get the same treatment? Did they ask the right questions? Questions that have no answers, yet constantly are asked with every reminder that I’m still here and they aren’t.

Then there’s side effects. My right arm had 24 lymph nodes removed (8 were cancerous), parts of a system that are taken for granted but without them, can throw your entire body and livelihood out of whack. The scar tissue damage from the lymph node removal tightens up over and over again if I go days without stretching and tearing the tissue on a consistent basis. I have to wear a tightly fitted sleeve every time I fly to keep the water retention down. But a flight over 4 hours makes my entire arm down to my fingertips painfully balloon up so much that only being patient for more than 24 hours eases the discomfort (and elephant man effect). Then there’s my boobs. Ahhhh, my boobs. While they do look amazing, the right one (always and forever the right one) hasn’t quite settled into the implant and is much tougher than the left. Luckily one can only tell if you stare at me while naked or try to feel me up. And luckily Graham’s always a bit preoccupied …… that’s another blog ……. so it’s not a problem. Now that it’s summer again, I run into the problem with forever looking ‘cold,’ but again – not really a problem. And I never felt like I was sick or had cancer, so the extent of any other side effect is merely mental.

And boy is it ever mental. Will it come back? Do I really need to go to that check up? Has that mole gotten bigger? Have I always felt this way in my back? Is this headache because of stress or is there a tumor? And then there’s the mental side effects from the Tamoxifen. Luckily, I’ve learned how to cope with those, but it doesn’t make it any easier.

So yes, another year cancer free. I’m grateful. Your life never turns out exactly how you planned. Surprises are always bound to turn up along the way. It’s only how you deal with those surprises that defines who you are. Several years ago I was that same bossy boots brown that overstepped boundaries, took control, and had a hot temper. And in some ways I am still that person. (Just ask my husband) But now I’m learning to care a little less about things that truly don’t matter and care more about people who do. Today is yet another reminder to put my priorities in place. And another day to give thanks, especially when others can’t.

 

 

Saying Farewell… February 28, 2014

Filed under: cancer,in memorium — Bad Right Breast @ 1:27 pm

Screen shot 2014-02-28 at 12.35.40 PM

Sometimes when a person dies, the people that make up her life won’t fully understand her impact until after she’s gone.  But in Amy’s case, each and every individual that met her, instantly knew exactly how special she really was.  I posted the blog on Tuesday for my dear friend Mia Laudato, in honor of her best friend, Amy Furman Ames, a woman I thought was absolutely remarkable, simply through the facebook messages and postings we shared over the course of several months.  I knew that people loved her, but it’s amazing to see the impact in numbers.  Within 24 hours, over 10,000 people read and shared it.   (ps – my highest posting before this was 335).  People around the world are being inspired by her greatness.   Right now, less than 3 days later, that number is now over 16,500, and has reached over 60 countries.  I mean, I don’t even think I ever heard of Liechtenshtein, Oman, or Azerbaijan.  But someone there is now inspired by a woman so great, words can no longer express.  She is literally wrapping her arms around the world in her greatness. Even now, she never ceases to amaze me.

Her family and friends have now laid her to rest, but their time celebrating this wonderful woman hasn’t ceased.  She will forever live on each person she encountered – guaranteed.  Unfortunately, it takes something as horrible as losing such an angel to make us realize what is truly important in life.  Material things no longer matter.  We’ll lose sight of this in months to come, but something will happen that will remind you of Amy, and you will be reminded to put your priorities in place.  We never know how long we are here.  And even worse, things can change with the blink of an eye.  If you were to leave today with just one thing, leave with this.  Live your life as great and tremendous as you possibly can.  Make a difference to each and every person you come in contact with.  As with Amy, a little goes a long way.

If you want to do something more, Amy’s brother Scott posted this in the online facebook group:

“Many have asked about organizations that they could donate to in memory of my sister. Amy had many causes that were close to her heart – way too many to list. Please don’t feel restricted by this suggested group below:

Breast Cancer Research Foundation
https://donations.bcrfcure.org/donate-now

Gina McReynolds Foundation
http://www.teamgina.org/donate-now

Buoniconti Fund
http://www.thebuonicontifund.com/page.aspx?pid=511

Notices of donations can be sent to Amy’s mother:

Yvette Katz
256 Sayre Drive
Princeton, NJ 08540

Some have also also asked if there is anything they can do to assist her son, Jacob. I have set up a 529 education savings plan that anyone can make contributions to. If that interests you, please send me a private message or email containing your full name and email address. (It may take me a few days to respond to these, but I promise to get back to everybody.)”

To Amy:  Goodbye, hot mama.  I’ll see you in tonight’s sunset, tomorrow’s sunrise and in the kindness of a stranger.